Israel’s online gambling market was once a liberal zone that allowed offshore operators free reign because of the ambiguity of its existing laws. Israeli poker players thronged to these offshore poker sites and provided them with lucrative business.
Two years ago things changed as Israeli legislators started paying more attention to the online gambling market in the country and looked to tighten things up that would clean up their iGaming industry. The game of poker was outlawed in Israel on the basis that it is a game of chance and not skill which resulted in a number of poker operators winding down operations and moving out of Israel.
Israel passed stringent laws concerning the game of poker which ruled that anyone found playing poker could face up to 12 months in prison while those organizing poker tournaments could face up to 36 months in prison. Those tough laws literally brought poker to a standstill in Israel.
However, all that could change very quickly as a new bill has been put forward which seeks to legalize poker tournaments in the country.
Supreme Court: Poker A Game of Skill
The new bill proposed by Likud MK Sharren Haskel, comes after the nation’s Supreme Court ruled that poker was a game of skill rather than luck.
Judge Neal Hendel pointed out during his ruling that each year a number of poker tournaments take place and they attract a lot of poker players. The Judge was confident enough to rule that poker can no longer be viewed as a game of luck and be classified as gambling. The ruling recognized poker as a game of skill.
The ruling makes poker’s designation as gambling unjustifiable, and opens the door for legislation. Politicians could now decide to revisit poker’s gambling classification, which could potentially result in the creation of a new poker market in the country.
Poker is Very Much Alive in Israel
We pointed our earlier that poker is currently illegal in Israel and there are strict legal consequences attached to those violating the law. However, poker is still being played in the form of “underground” games, often held in clubs and apartments across the country. Cruise ships also host poker tournaments in international waters, beyond Israel’s legal jurisdiction.
The new proposal would authorize the Israeli Poker Players Association to hold and organize poker tournaments. The Finance Ministry would regulate the game and would impose the appropriate tax laws.
Israeli Poker Players Making A Name Internationally
A number of Israeli poker players have made it big in the global high-level tournament scene, with three players finishing with bracelets at the recent 2018 World Series of Poker Europe (WSOPE).
One of the players is Timur Margolin who won the €1,100 Monster Stack and took home €134,407 ($153,000) in prizes. Margolin currently sits at the fifth spot of Israel’s all-time winning list, with career tournament earnings amounting to more than $1.7 million.
Amir Lehavot tops the list having earned over $5.7 million in tournament prize winnings over the course of his career. He won a WSOP bracelet in 2011 and finished in the money at the 2013 WSOP Main Event. Other notable players coming from Israel are Zvi Stern, Rafi Amit and Asi Moshe. Israeli poker players have so far won a total of 12 WSOP bracelet wins. These figures are based on the latest info available at the Hendon Mob poker database.
Israeli legislator Haskel has cited the success of Israeli poker players as one big reason for legalizing poker in the country. Haskel said the Supreme Court has now made it clear that poker players are not gamblers, therefore they should now be allowed to improve their skills on their own home turf. Legalizing poker will encourage Israeli players to do better in major tournaments and international competitions.
Israel currently prohibits most forms of gambling, excluding lotteries and sports betting which are being operated by state-run monopolies. A proposal to allow casinos in Eilat was put forward by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2015 but not a lot of progress has been made and it is still awaiting approval.
Should Israeli legislators proceed with the online poker bill, then online poker could very well be made legal before the end of 2019.

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